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Research by parks staff will help inform the discussion around whether to pursue a recreation center

Between 2020 and 2025, the Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation Department will have approximately $52 million to spend on capital improvement projects.

That funding comes from a variety of sources, including the $30 million bond approved by voters earlier this year, $7.5 million estimated in systems development charges (SDCs, which come in when the City approves development projects), $3.5 million in the parks department's annual budget and $11 million trickling in from other areas such as Metro, grants or tourism funds.

That's a lot of money for parks projects, but believe it or not, it's not enough to fund all the projects that the different stakeholders within the community would like to see completed.

That puts the Lake Oswego City Council in a tough position, one that will likely leave some groups unhappy. But thanks to outreach done by Parks & Rec staff, as well as the Parks & Natural Resources Advisory Board, the council has a good grasp of the community's priorities when it comes to what projects should be funded.

After surveying more than 1,300 individuals, the park board found the community is more than willing to give at least a small chunk of the $30 million in bond funding to the Lake Oswego School District to build a new pool. But the development of new trails, athletic fields for use by such groups as soccer, baseball and lacrosse teams, as well as a new recreation center were also high on the list of priorities presented by the park board at the council's last meeting July 16.

The council is set to decide which projects will be greenlit for the coming several years, and parks staff has gathered research on how a new recreation center might serve the community and provide a huge boost in the amount of space the parks department has for programming. It could also give the department — which is currently spread across offices throughout the city — a central home.

Over the past month, Management Analyst Charity Taylor and Recreation Superintendent Jan Wirtz compiled data on two key areas that will provide Parks Director Ivan Anderholm and the City Council with context before they decide how to allocate funds.

Wirtz put together an internal report that examined how other cities and towns across the country have renovated or built new recreation centers: what features they included, how big they were, how they were funded and what type of uses were most popular within those communities.

"I did research on 'what are the benefits to the community of having a recreation center,' and more importantly, how would it benefit a community like ours? So I researched communities of similar demographics and size," Wirtz said.

Using data from the National Recreation and Parks Association, Wirtz found three examples: Lynnwood, Washington, New Brunfels, Texas, and Montrose, Colorado.

According to Wirtz, each of these communities either built or renovated their recreation center in the past decade, and the common thread that connected them was they all had overwhelming support from their citizens.

Wirtz believes that support is similar here in Lake Oswego.

"My entire career here at Parks & Recreation, we've heard that people want a central place for recreation. That goes back before my time when they had a joint facility committee that was trying to come up with a vision for the West End Building," Wirtz said. "This has gone on for years and years, and passing the bond tells us that people support this idea."

According to Wirtz, LO Parks & Recreation has seen growth in nearly all of its programs, both for children and adults. A recreation center of approximately 40,000 square feet would likely be needed to meet demand and bring at least most of the department's services and programs under one roof.

"People are looking for activity, they're looking for socialization, they're looking for belonging," Wirtz said. "That's the whole idea behind a sense of community."

While Wirtz's research centered around the impacts and benefits of a community recreation center, Taylor's looked at how field use — including sports such as baseball, softball, soccer, football and lacrosse — changed over the past eight years since LO Parks & Rec last surveyed its field use. This research took into account not just fields owned by the City itself but also the school district, which works in concert with Parks & Rec to offer as much opportunity for youth and adult recreational sports as possible.

Taylor found that participation numbers were down by at least 27% in every league sport except for soccer, which saw an 11% increase from 2011 to 2018. Yet despite declining participation numbers, demand for field time is higher than ever.

"Seasons are starting to lengthen due to rain-outs, people have to reschedule games and that leads to seasons overlapping more which we didn't see before," Taylor said.

Taylor's report noted that despite a 33% decline in both softball and baseball participation, there were still severe deficiencies within the community for fields. The report corroborated parks staff and the park board's assertion that more fields are needed even if there is a way to preserve field space at Lakeridge Middle School, where the school district has proposed to place a new pool.

According to Anderholm, the Rasseekh property across Stafford Road from Luscher Farm City Park is the answer, and come Sept. 17, the City Council is likely to approve $7 million — $4 million from the bond and $3 million from other sources — to build a pair of new softball/baseball fields, and new soccer field with other amenities such as parking.

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF LAKE OSWEGO - Conceptual site plans show two baseball fields and a soccer field that could come to the Rassekh property adjacent to Luscher Farm City Park.

The council will also consider whether to accept the park board's recommendation made in July that to allocate $19 million — $12 million from the bond and $7 million from other sources — to a new recreation center and renovation of the current facility at the LO Public Golf Course. Writz presented conceptual renderings suggesting the golf course could house a new recreation center at the first joint City Council-LOSD school board meeting back in April. If the golf course were to become the new home of a recreation center, the course could end up being rearranged into a 9-hole or 12-hole course along with updating the current practice facilties and golf center.

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